What will you do if the telco industry dies?

Christel Heydemann, Orange’s CEO, brought to our attention at MWC 2023 that a survey of European telcos indicated that almost half of the polled CEOs do not expect their businesses to make it through another decade.

That’s a pretty scary thing to think about if you’ve built your career around the telco industry and don’t have a lot of exposure to other industries isn’t it?

I don’t expect the global telco industry to die. Telcos services are just far too essential for our modern life. However, it is quite possible that the telco industry as we currently know it will be massively disrupted or even killed off within the coming decades (see reference to this old article about an OSS Doomsday Scenario, though the disruption could readily look quite different to the scenarios posed in that article). It is quite feasible that the industry will be disrupted in such a big way that our roles, skills and experiences are rendered quite redundant.

Are you considering any mitigation path just in case?

I’ve always been a believer that the interesting projects flow where the money / investment goes and to therefore take time to observe longitudinal investment trends.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of investment waves occurring – 5G, government broadband investments, cloudification / virtualisation, etc. As a result, I sense that the telco world may not have a huge amount of capital left for major network investments in the next few years. There’s certainly a decent amount of systems, automation and AI investment still occurring on the trailing edge of these recent waves though at least.

What are the next waves?

We can already see the Generative AI shockwaves propagating, so there’s clearly significant investment going into that industry. The data management skills we’ve derived from OSS / telco could be transferable beyond telco. We’ve also discussed how immersive technologies (AR/VR) will change the way we live, having an impact on the telco industry and every other industry that relies on digital services.

Can you think of anything else?

I also feel that a really big wave that’s coming next is the renewal of power grids around the world. The current grids are struggling to cope with the shift from central power generation (eg coal-fired power plants) to edge-based power generation (eg roof-top solar). Grids simply weren’t designed for the modern energy generation profiles. Billions will need to be invested in renewable energy monitoring and grid renewal / redesign projects in the next decade.

Structurally and culturally the power industry is different from the telco industry. However, there are many overlaps in the systems, because telco networks and power / telesupervisory networks can still be boiled down to nodes and connections. They still need to be designed, built, operated and maintained in similar, but also specifically nuanced ways, to telco OSS/BSS.

If interested, I’ve previously set up a power / comms / telesupervisory prototype in my sandpit inventory environment, which gives some sense  of the similarities:

The energy industry tends to keep its power, telesupervisory and comms / IT networks separated. However, I see great merit in combining data for the purpose of root-cause, design / planning, build (eg as an entire substation build that has all networks converging), network operations, customer support / management and various other workflows.

What other backup plans do you have in mind if a career in telco proves unsustainable for you at some point in the future?

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